Eline Van Gils, you are a Dutch actress known for the role of Lily in the TV series ANNE+ (NL 2018 -) in which you play Anne's first girlfriend Lily. We learn that the two are in their twenties and moved together to Amsterdam for their studies. We see their mutual interests and their differences and we also watch how they grow apart, which eventually leads to their break up. I watched a short clip behind the scenes with you in which you relate that you enjoy playing a role you feel connected to, so in which way was this role connected to you and how did you learn about the series?
The main connection between the role of Lily and myself is that Lily is openly gay from a young age. She grew up in a small town and moved to Amsterdam to study there, same as me. This is the first gay role that I’ve played, and because of her being openly gay from a young age and growing up in a small town, there is a natural understanding of who she is and where she comes from. She is kind of a young version of myself in a way, although she has some other characteristics, of course. As an actor you always have to connect yourself to the role you play, and sometimes that takes a bit more time and figuring out than at other times. In the case of Lily, it went pretty smoothly and we fell together quite fast and organically. I first learned about the series from Hanna van Vliet, who played the role of Anne in the series. She had just filmed a teaser for the series and told me about the idea. After that, I coincidentally met Valerie (the director) in a bar. I didn’t know her back then, but she knew who I was and started talking about the series. Then I told her I heard about it from Hanna and I loved the idea. This is when we decided to meet up for a beer to discuss the part of Lily and the rest of the series.
It was an all female cast and crew who made the series. How was that experience compared to some others experiences; for instance, having male coworkers on the set? I also learned that director Valerie Bisscheroux and screenwriter Maud Wiemeijer wanted to challenge certain stereotypes regarding the representation of lesbians wearing certain clothes--such as tank tops--and feeling isolated and lonely. Instead, the series wanted to portray young lesbians as happy and carefree as any other adolescents during their student years. I find this positive attitude very refreshing and think it is about time. How do you relate to that?
Most of the cast and crew was indeed female and gay, not all. For this series, it was cool that there was a lot of personal understanding of being gay and of gay love and sex. I never felt uncomfortable; everyone was on the same page and felt connected to the series and that’s a very good vibe to have on a set. I don’t mind male coworkers at all, but sometimes it is nice to have a few more women on set to have a good balance of the energy though.
I think it is really important to stop looking at being gay as a problem that you should feel ashamed about. Of course coming out is often difficult and can be very scary, but we shouldn’t only show the negative things about being gay on TV shows and in films. If you want people to look at it as being just as normal as being straight, then we should focus on it being normal.
I liked how you present yourself in your bio, saying that you are a cisgender woman whose sexual orientation is homosexual. This made me think that you are aware of the importance that lesbian characters are played by lesbian actresses. I often see straight actresses saying that sexual orientation does not matter in playing a role or that sexual orientation does not matter since we are all more or less bisexual. How do you reply to that?
I believe that sexual orientation can help a lot when playing a gay role. It gives a deeper understanding of a role and you can make sure that it doesn’t accidentally get stereotyped. It gives a certain realness that just adds something extra. But on the other hand, I also think that an actor should be able to play a lot of different roles. If I only got to play gay roles because I’m gay, it would be very difficult for me to get any work. There are straight actors that do a great job playing a gay character, but I also have seen this go wrong a lot of times. It’s a topic that still doesn’t have enough commercial content, so why not give gay actors the few gay roles that are there and give them a chance of getting those stories out? I somehow feel responsible as an actress to help tell these stories to a bigger audience, and it feels good to be a part of it.
About women playing lesbians and telling that sexual orientation doesn’t matter because we are all more or less bisexual, I believe in “the spectrum”: in some cases people are really in the middle of the spectrum. But really, being able to fall in love with both sexes, with girls just as deeply and hard as with boys, is a rare thing. I understand straight love because I compare it to what I know, which is lesbian love. And that’s probably a different relationship, but the feeling of love could be the same. So when I play a straight role, I play the idea I have about straight love and when I play a gay role, I play the love I truly, personally, know as love. It’s a bit hard to explain; I might be a bit all over the place here…hahah…but I don’t know how to say it in a better way.
I watched an interview on the show “Margriet van der Linden” with the aforementioned director and screenwriter and actress Hanna van Vliet and learned that it is the first Dutch lesbian TV series. I was a bit surprised that such a liberal and progressive country as the Netherlands only got its first lesbian TV series in 2018 and that lesbians aren't so much represented in Dutch movies and TV series. Why? And how do you find life for LGBT people, their job, marriage, family and social aspects in the Netherlands?
In a lot of things, the Dutch are progressive. And when it comes to being gay, they’re finding this more and more okay. But still in the representation of gay men and women there is definitely not enough. It is still stranger than I would want it to be, and the representation that there is makes the stereotyped, troubled image of gay people even worse. I live in Amsterdam, and I’m surrounded with great loving friends and most of them are gay, so I don’t know if I have the best opinion on this. I sometimes get so surprised when I'm with straight people and I’m “coming out” again that the reactions are mostly a bit shocked and they often change the way they look at you, sometimes for the better sometimes for the worse. But it still happens, and it fascinates me how people can still change the image they have of you by the knowledge of who you love, what gender you love. I’m happy that ANNE+ is not doing anything with these stereotypes and prejudices that people have, and that this series is about love and about being young and finding your way in life like any 20-year old.
Do you think film should be progressive and portray certain values and attitudes (i.e. portraying more inclusive, diverse, equal, free, democratic relationships) and a world in which people's origin, sexual orientation and/or sexual identity, colour, status don't matter?
Absolutely, yes! Film can inspire people or make people see things in a different way. But if you want to talk to a big audience, you probably have to take it easy and show it in more subtle ways, just as if it’s the most normal thing ever. Those kind of films are very important and there should be more of it! And also more female leads that are not a girl falling in love with the cute guy.
What is your biggest inspiration (film or not film career wise) and what are your plans for the future projects?
I find inspiration in a lot of things and art forms and the genres are very diverse. I love strong female characters in film and theatre. I have a weak spot for the funny, strong women in Quentin Tarantino’s movies. I love the theatrical style and humor of Wes Anderson. Roy Andersson also has a dark, theatrical humor and tragedy which I love. And the darkness and psychedelic films of Lars von Trier. But I don’t know who my biggest inspiration is. Maybe they are all in my head together, combined as one. For me, it doesn’t necessarily have to be realistic. I want to believe it, of course, but the style and form can be totally weird.
I do theatre a lot. Currently I’m in three different plays which I perform with a few other actors in high schools. Theatre is something I love to do, and I would love to keep on doing it. But I also want to do more in film and explore that part of acting more, which I do in smaller film projects at the moment. Because I really like doing it and it has such a different audience and different way of working and acting. And of course maybe a season 2 of ANNE+, who knows…